Last week I read an interesting article on WIRED about the current need of biologists who are able to code. The article stressed how more biologists need to learn coding in order to analyze huge data sets, and how most biology curricula in universities lack such topics.
After reading it I could not relate more to it. This is because right now I am working on my master’s thesis in which I need to use R to analyze my data. For those who are not familiar with it, R is a statistics software and programming language widely used in in data analysis. The only “problem”, let’s say, is that to work on it training is needed because is based on a specific coding language.
However, during my education in Colombia and Sweden I have not had any training whatsoever in coding. From my own perspective I thought coding was a skill only necessary for hard-core software engineers, computer scientists or bioinformaticians, so I never really bothered not taking a course until now, when I face the need to learn how to code to analyze the data I have generated during my degree project.
As said in the article on WIRED, I am learning these skills on my own -as many other biologists are doing too. Luckily, there are some courses online to learn the basics and manuals to learn more advanced functions. I followed one online course offered by the University College of London for free . Additionally, at the Department of Forest Mycology and Plant Pathology (where I’m doing my thesis) we are learning with a group of researchers, master students and PhD students how to use PoppR (Population genetics in R) a package of R to analyze molecular data for population ecology. We are together following the instructions and manuals with our own data sets , which has been a very nice learning experience because together we have been able to compare, discuss, read additional literature and learn topics beyond the mere coding aspect of R.
Today I honestly regret not paying more attention to coding- that I have realized is even fun! in the past . Nonetheless it is exciting learn such a powerful skill, that will be for sure useful to answer relevant questions in biology.